Aviation relief

Published January 8, 2022

THAT the global aviation watchdog ICAO has cleared the Civil Aviation Authority of significant safety concerns after a year of thorough review and audit is good news for the country’s struggling aviation industry. Hopefully, it will also lead to an early removal of the 2019 restrictions imposed on the national carrier by the EU, Britain and the US, as well as pave the way for private airlines to start their operations to these destinations. Pakistani aircraft were barred from flying to and from these places because of safety concerns in the wake of the tragic Karachi plane crash in May 2020 and subsequent statements from the aviation minister that over 30pc of Pakistani pilots had dubious flying licences. Indeed, his damning remarks about the licences on the floor of the National Assembly, and that too without any serious prior inquiry, were irresponsible to say the least. But though his words caused significant long-term financial and reputational damage to the country’s aviation industry, the worst seems to be over now after the ICAO report.

The suspension of the ‘third-country operator authorisation’ of PIA to operate flights to and from Europe and the US by their respective aviation authorities until the completion of an ICAO safety audit was seen by many here as an impulsive move at the time. But that is how governments that care for human lives act. The restrictions have proved to be a blessing in disguise for Pakistan as they have compelled the CAA to take action to resolve passenger safety concerns. Yet, it is pertinent to add here that ICAO validation isn’t going to automatically restore public trust in either the CAA or PIA and the private local airlines. The aviation authorities should share with the public the measures they have taken since the Karachi crash to make planes safe for travel. Last month’s incident in which a PIA flight from Islamabad to Karachi had to twice return minutes after taking off owing to technical fault does not inspire much confidence in the airworthiness of the national carrier or the aviation authorities. The incident underscores the need for the aviation authorities to continuously keep a check on their planes, whether they are operating on the domestic circuit or international routes, in order to ensure that they are implementing international passenger safety standards. Complacency is not an option when human lives are involved.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2022

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